Getting hired meant living alone in a cemetery. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, it was, but not for the reasons you might expect. I didn’t have a problem with the deceased; it was the living that terrified me. High school kids would hop the cemetery gate to get dead-drunk. It was my job, as gatekeeper, to get them in the hearse and haul them out. Really blotto fellas liked to sneak back and peek into my trailer window while I slept. It was a massive un-perk of the job, both personally and professionally.
My solution? I slept with a shotgun under my bed.
Evenings were consumed by funerary duties: answering the phone, washing the hearse, emptying garbage cans. My days were about waiting in my stifling cemetery trailer at the end of the property, hoping to get thrown some extra scratch for being sent on a job-related mission.
Very little liveliness, charm, or surprise to my life that summer. I could walk the grassy graves barefoot and look at names for a half hour, or drive my Jeep to the way back, undeveloped area. I’d emerge and roll my body down a long hill like a five-year-old. I’d get up quickly to look around and make sure no graveyard employee could see me. After all that excitement, I’d return to the hot toaster oven trailer to see if I missed a call from the office.
My living shack was about 200 feet from the office. It was separated by a long drive that was super creepy at night, behind a row of even creepier tall shrubs. Occasionally, I would leave night shift headquarters to refill my Super Big Gulp, or head to the local library for a thick stack of magazines since I spent so much time alone.
One hot day, I stretched out in my bright pink swimsuit with a chilled soda close by, sunscreen applied, and a ukulele tuned. I couldn’t play much on it, but I was able to pull of something close to an E chord and an A-flat minor. With only one chord or note, I managed to pluck out something that sounded, remotely, like “Love and Happiness,” by Al Green.
Very remotely like Al Green. I stunk at ukulele, but a girl outside a cemetery trailer in the dead heat of summer does avoid complainers. I could plainly see how unmusical I was, but fate decided to put my lack of talent to the true test—an audience!
Richard, the funeral director who had the misfortune of working that weekend, rang me up that same afternoon. “There’s a funeral in the chapel and somebody needs to step up, pronto,” he blurted out.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The soloist is a no-show and the family is getting itchy. Put on some clothes and get down here, I need you to sing something before they start to riot.”
“Sure thing! I’m your gal!”
I entered the back of the chapel, without a clue of what to do. A man spoke at the microphone, there was silence, so Richard gave me my cue. I gingerly walked up the aisle to the familiar opening of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
I couldn’t concentrate on the notes; I had to make sure I got the words out right, not to mention the melody. To help me focus, I kept my eyes on a woman’s ugly hat, mid-row on the left. My vocal stylings were over before they began. I made the mistake of actually looking at the audience and caught expressions of horror. I nailed it, but not in a good way, and my awfulness was reflected in their faces. I finished up, gave Richard a huge, toothy grin, and scooted out of there before they could start throwing tomatoes.
The next time I saw Richard, his feedback was brief: “You suck.”
“Singing at a funeral is hard!” I whined. “Everybody’s so emotional.”
“What did you have to be emotional about?” Richard demanded. “You didn’t even know the deceased.”
“Look, I’m just some poor schlub who happened to be living in the trailer at a cemetery minding my own business until you begged me for a favor. Did you honestly think you were getting Elton John under those circumstances?”